Balancing SEO and natural language in website copy

Barely Balanced puttting on a great show at the Arizona Renaissance Fairphoto © 2011 Frank Kovalchek | more info (via: Wylio)
I’m working with a client that has just rewritten their website. The content is very readable and approachable. It should be quite effective … if they can get their prospects to find the site.

The company has also provided me with a list of the SEO keywords they are targeting, which today are found nowhere on the website. They realize this, of course, and have a strategy for creating landing pages and content, and eventually all should be well.

But this situation brought to me the eternal dilemma that writers have, particularly when writing business websites: how do we write for SEO while trying to write in a persuasive, conversational tone that people will actually read?

Do we optimize for humans or machines?

Of course the answer must be both – there’s no point in creating a site just for SEO, at least in technology marketing. You want conversions, and for that you need effective content.  Quality comes first.

But if you carefully avoid the industry standard terms – the ones that people might use when they already understand the problem and are searching for a solution – then you lose important organic search opportunities.  So you need to strike a balance.

Are your SEO keywords too esoteric?

Sometimes the only SEO keywords are the buzzwords. If  people might search for your solutions using other terms, you should consider including them on your list. If you only optimize for the big industry buzzwords – the ones your competitors are targeting as well – competition can be fierce.

Possible strategies for balancing SEO and conversation

Disclaimer: I’m not an SEO expert – I’m a writer trying to do the right thing by my clients for organic search purposes.  With that proviso, here are some strategies that I’d suggest:

  • Put the keywords where they count: Use the keywords in the headings/links, but the alternative (conversational) phrasing in the text.
  • Give the writer the keywords up front:  Knowing the keywords right off the bat, the writer can be more creative about working them into the text without necessarily creating droning, jargon-filled content.
  • Create separate landing pages for SEO keywords:  Keep your conversion pages exactly as you want them, targeted for optimal conversions, and then drive people to those pages through highly keyword-optimized landing pages.
  • Find out-of-stream places to put the SEO terms: For example, find customer or analyst quotes that use the terms, and include those on your pages (with permission, of course).

How about you – do you have any other techniques or strategies for balancing SEO in website copy? I’d love to hear them!  I’ll compile if I get some good ones!

Other reading: If you’re interested, Kristi Hines wrote a great post on SEO copywriting.

2 Comments on “Balancing SEO and natural language in website copy

  1. Wonderful post, Anne. I have a client with a nice website that is very difficult to find, partially because the URL (and their name) contains a phrase shared by many other organizations with much higher rankings. I was just about to have a talk with them about keywords!

  2. Thanks, Claire. Choosing just the right keywords is never easy, is it? As with anything else, you’ve got to find the right niche.

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